Westminster theatre productions come alive behind the curtain

Though many hours of preliminary work, planning and supporting roles are necessary for any show to exist, an observer of a live theatre production only sees a fraction of that work—the cast, props and stage.  

Harrison Corthell, a junior technical theatre major, plays the role of stage manager in some of Westminster College's theatre productions.  

Corthell, like many theatre majors, said he believes there is a welcome level of deception that goes into producing a live show. He said it's the stage manager and crew's goal to create a world on stage that contains only the aspects of the show they want the audience to see.  

"[We're] telling a fantastical world and building it," Corthell said. "I think that’s where the magic is—that there's so much behind the scenes that the audience doesn't know." 

Griffin Irish, a music and technical theatre major, works closely with Corthell and other stage managers as a shop foreman and sound designer. He said he hopes the audience realizes how much work goes on backstage, even if they only see the results of that labor.  

Harrison Corthell, a junior technical theatre major, sits at the stage manager desk in the Black Box Theatre in the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts. From this location, Corthell manages most of the technical aspects of the show, such as lighting and stage positioning. Photo by Casie Peterson.

Harrison Corthell, a junior technical theatre major, sits at the stage manager desk in the Black Box Theatre in the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts. From this location, Corthell manages most of the technical aspects of the show, such as lighting and stage positioning. Photo by Casie Peterson.

"When I first saw what happens backstage, it's almost another show to me," Irish said. "It's interesting all that goes on back there. And that’s kind of what sucked me into the world of theatre, technical theatre." 

Corthell set aside some time during his shift working on the set of Westminster's upcoming show, "Blithe Spirit," to talk about his passion for stage management.  

Q:  Why did you choose Westminster? 

A: I came to Westminster because it has a pretty great theatre program and it is a small theatre program. So for self-motivated students and students that want to be really involved, it's really good for them. And the scholarships were pretty great, so I decided to come here. 

Harrison Corthell, a junior technical theatre major, walks above the stage in the Courage Theatre in Westminster's Jewett Center for the Performing Arts. Here, the stage crew alters lighting and other ceiling-suspended props. Photo by Casie Peterson.

Harrison Corthell, a junior technical theatre major, walks above the stage in the Courage Theatre in Westminster's Jewett Center for the Performing Arts. Here, the stage crew alters lighting and other ceiling-suspended props. Photo by Casie Peterson.

Q: What does a typical day look like as a stage manager? 

A: Every day in the theatre is a different day in the theatre— no two days are the same. I really like this field because it is constantly changing. There's this term that 'theatre dies.' So for two months you'll be working on a project and then the show will close and you will start a new project. I think in 2016 I worked on 13 shows, and it's really fun when your workplace environment is constantly changing. It's a really hectic environment in a good way. Not like it's crazy or disorganized or anything, but it's very intense. It's a very intense place to be and I think because of that it's really, really fun. 

Q: Do you think the audience realizes how much goes into the production of a show backstage or behind the scenes? 

A: There is a lot behind the stage that audiences don’t see, and I don't fault them for that because the convention of traditional theatre is that we are building a world with only specific things that they see. So everything that you see when you go to a theatre production is purposeful; it's there. That’s what you're supposed to see. But there is so much that you don’t see that is supporting that that is literally right off stage or right behind a wall. There's so much magic there. That is why I love theatre. 

Q: How does Westminster's curriculum cater to people who want to work backstage or in the production side of theatre? 

A: Unlike other technical theatre programs, we are kind of a little community. You may have an emphasis— like I have an emphasis in stage management— but besides stage management classes I also have to take lighting design classes, costuming classes, makeup classes; I have to take all those other classes. I even have to take acting classes just so that I can appreciate what other majors put into a production because theatre is so collaborative.